It’s been a quiet month here at Appetite for China. I must apologize. The past few weeks have been stressful, to say the least. I finally turned in my manuscript in late September (yay!), only to fly to China bright and early the following morning for a two-week stay. My dad, unfortunately, is in the hospital, and I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. If you’ve never met him, rest assured he’s an incredible person, not to mention a wiz in the kitchen. He’s the man responsible for teaching me, among life’s many important lessons, how to make the best Cantonese roast pork ever and some equally drool-worthy scallion pancakes. I really hope he pulls through.
Between my book and extended travels, I haven’t had time to develop new recipes for the site as I had hoped. But I do want to share with you a terrific recipe for stir-fried collard greens from The Essential New York Times Cookbook. (I love flipping through the book on whim, especially right before bed.) It’s good to know that even when your mind is too exhausted for cooking ideas, the bookshelf still offers trusty recipes to fall back on.
I’m used to collard greens stewed Southern-style, so I was curious how the greens would be different as a Cantonese stir-fry. According to the headnote, the recipe comes from the Chow family in Clarksdale, Mississippi, whose ancestors settled in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s. As I previously wrote in my post on Chinese Grocery Roast Pork, the Mississippi Delta is home to quite a big group of Chinese-Americans, who settled there after heading east after the Gold Rush. The family started stir-frying collard greens because bok choy and other Chinese greens weren’t available in the earlier days. But that’s not the only ingredient they put a creative spin on. In this Times article on the Chows, the family also makes delectable-sounding crayfish, catfish, and fried rice with bacon.
The challenge here was how to get tender collard greens with the shorter cooking time of inherent in stir-frying. I made the greens twice over two days. The recipe in the book specifies stir-frying the greens alone for one minute but is a little ambiguous about how long to cook it after adding the seasonings. The first time I followed the Times recipe exactly, but the greens seems a little too rough and chewy. The next time, I decided to trim the leave smaller and extend to cooking time a smidgen. I also diluted the oyster sauce, since it’s a little thick right out of the bottle.
The result was great. I went back for seconds, then thirds. They’re still not as tender as stewed Southern collard greens, but delicious in their own right, with oomph in the body like lightly cooked kale. Try it just once, and you’d be hooked too. And if you like your greens spicy, add a bit of crushed red pepper flakes.
Do you have another favorite way of cooking collard greens?
Stir-fried Collard Greens
2 1/2 to 3 pounds collard greens
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the collard greens and trim the hard ends off. Cut the leaves into small pieces, approximately 2 inches by 2 inches.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside.
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Working in 2 or 3 batches, blanch the greens for 1 minute (begin counting after the water returns to a boil.) Immediately transfer the greens to the ice water to cool. Drain well, then squeeze out the excess water with your hands. Spread the greens on kitchen towels and pat them dry, as the excess water will cause the oil in the wok to spit. Repeat with the remaining batch(es).
- Heat a wok over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the greens and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in the oyster sauce mixture, sugar, and optional red pepper flakes. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow the greens to cook for another 3 to 4minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the greens to a plate and serve.
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.